United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division
ENTRY DISCUSSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
William T. Lawrence, Judge
Montgomery seeks habeas corpus relief. Having considered
pleadings and the expanded record, the Court finds for the
reasons explained in this Entry that the habeas petition must
be denied and this action dismissed with prejudice. In
addition, the Court finds that a certificate of appealability
should not issue.
is serving the executed portion of sentences imposed
following his convictions for Murder and for Neglect of a
Dependent. These convictions arose from the murder and
mistreatment of four-year-old Elijah Simpson, the son of
Montgomery's girlfriend Courtney Simpson, during the
early morning hours of March 30, 2007. The convictions were
affirmed on appeal in Montgomery v. State, 2008 WL
5062780 (Ind.Ct.App. Dec. 2, 2008), trans. denied. A
subsequent and limited direct appeal (sometimes hereafter
“the second direct appeal”) resulted in the
appellate court concluding, in part, that the exclusion of
certain evidence at trial was the proper ruling.
Montgomery v. State, 21 N.E.3d 846 (Ind.Ct.App. Nov.
21, 2014)(“The issues on appeal are limited to issues
related to the introduction of 404(b) evidence. . . . The
trial court recognized that the sole issue at trial was who
inflicted the blunt force trauma that killed Elijah and found
that evidence of Courtney's pattern of abuse of Elijah
was not admissible to show that she committed the offenses
unless Montgomery could show that Elijah's death was
caused by a pattern of abuse. He failed to do so, and indeed
evidence was presented that he confessed to detectives that
he threw Elijah to the ground in a manner consistent with the
injury causing death.”).
now seeks relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). This
statute authorizes a district court to issue a writ of habeas
corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to a state
court judgment “only on the ground that he is in
custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties
of the United States.” Id. The scope of the
Great Writ is limited because a viable habeas claim pursuant
to § 2254(a) necessarily precludes a claim which is not
based on alleged noncompliance with federal law. See
Wilson v. Corcoran, 131 S.Ct. 13, 16 (2010) (“But
it is only noncompliance with federal law that renders a
State's criminal judgment susceptible to collateral
attack in the federal courts.”). His petition is
governed by provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”). See Lindh v.
Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 336 (1997).
AEDPA, federal courts do not independently analyze the
petitioner's claims; federal courts are limited to
reviewing the relevant state court ruling on the
claims.” Rever v. Acevedo, 590 F.3d 533, 536
(7th Cir. 2010). As one court has explained, “[i]t is
this Court's obligation to focus “on the state
court decision that previously addressed the claims rather
than the petitioner's freestanding claims
themselves.” McLee v. Angelone, 967 F.Supp.
152, 156 (E.D.Va. 1997). “Under the current regime
governing federal habeas corpus for state prison inmates, the
inmate must show, so far as bears on this case, that the
state court which convicted him unreasonably applied a
federal doctrine declared by the United States Supreme
Court.” Redmond v. Kingston, 240 F.3d 590 (7th
Cir. 2001) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); Williams
v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000); Morgan v.
Krenke, 232 F.3d 562 (7th Cir. 2000)). “A
state-court decision involves an unreasonable application of
this Court's clearly established precedents if the state
court applies this Court's precedents to the facts in an
objectively unreasonable manner.” Brown v.
Payton, 544 U.S. 131, 141 (2005) (internal citations
omitted). “The habeas applicant has the burden of proof
to show that the application of federal law was
unreasonable.” Harding v. Sternes, 380 F.3d
1034, 1043 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Woodford v.
Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25 (2002)).
AEDPA's standard is intentionally ‘difficult for
Petitioner to meet.'” Woods v. Donald, 135
S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (per curiam) (quoting White v.
Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1702 (2014); Metrish v.
Lancaster, 133 S.Ct. 1781, 1786 (2013)). “As a
condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a
state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on
the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in
justification that there was an error well understood and
comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for
fairminded disagreement.” Harrington v.
Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011).
first step under § 2254(d)(1) is “to identify the
‘clearly established Federal law, as determined by the
Supreme Court of the United States' that governs the
habeas petitioner's claims.” Marshall v.
Rodgers, 133 S.Ct. 1446, 1449 (2013) (citing
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. at 412; Knowles v.
Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 122 (2009)).
first habeas claim is his challenge to the sufficiency of the
evidence as to the murder conviction. The controlling federal
law on this subject is the “rigorous” standard
set forth in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319
(1979): “evidence, viewed in the light most favorable
to the State, is sufficient to support a conviction so long
as any rational trier of fact could find the essential
elements of the offense to have been proved beyond a
reasonable doubt.” Jones v. Butler, 778 F.3d
575, 581 (7th Cir. 2015). Therefore, “[f]ederal review
of these claims . . . turns on whether the state court
provided fair process and engaged in reasoned, good-faith
decisionmaking when applying Jackson's ‘no
rational trier of fact' test.” Gomez v.
Acevedo, 106 F.3d 192, 199 (7th Cir. 1999).
Indiana Court of Appeals addressed this claim in
Montgomery's direct appeal, and in doing so first
explained its standard:
When considering a challenge to the sufficiency of evidence,
we neither reweigh the evidence nor judge witness
credibility. McHenry v. State, 820 N.E.2d 124 (Ind.
2005). This review “respects ‘the
[fact-finder]'s exclusive province to weigh conflicting
evidence.'” Id. at 126 (quoting
Alkhalidi v. State, 753 N.E.2d 625, 627 (Ind.
2001)). Considering only the probative evidence and
reasonable inferences supporting the verdict, we must affirm
“‘if the probative evidence and reasonable
inferences drawn from the evidence could have allowed a
reasonable trier of fact to find the defendant guilty beyond
a reasonable doubt.'” McHenry v. State,
820 N.E.2d at 126 (quoting Tobar v. State, 740
N.E.2d 109, 111-12 (Ind. 2000)).
Montgomery v. State, 899 N.E.2d 760, *2 (Ind.Ct.App.
2008). The Indiana Court of Appeals then summarized the
evidence which ...